Maintaining PR's reputation as the strongest brand builder

Marketing has always been about brand building. Traditionally, this meant developing a clear brand proposition and delivering that message to a target audience.

Marketing has always been about brand building. Traditionally, this meant developing a clear brand proposition and delivering that message to a target audience. For many years that proposition worked; consumers were largely passive receptors of branded messages. The democratization of media and the cynicism of consumers, combined with the communication tools that they and other commentators have at their disposal, means that brand image – the script carefully crafted by marketers – is now balanced by brand reputation.

Reputation is a function of all the messages an individual receives about a brand, be they through paid or earned media.

This type of 360-degree brand building is our industry's heritage. We're comfortable with establishing and maintaining conversations with influencers, but other disciplines from the marketing mix have begun to grasp the power of “engagement” over “broadcast” and arguably are able, given their bigger budgets, to do more in the interactive space. As our partners at ad and interactive agencies begin to encroach on “our territory,” how do we maintain our position as the most comprehensive brand reputation builders?

There is a way to help navigate the convergence of brand image and reputation, leverage it to actively engage brand participants, and thereby create enthusiastic brand ambassadors.

The first step in the process is to map the communication landscape, so that brands understand all of the issues and commentators that can impact their business and reputation. Once brands recognize the drivers of their reputation, they must listen to them. Most brands undertake monitoring as an annual ritual without remembering why they are doing it or thinking how to optimally use the data. Most brands also only measure brand equity with consumers, ignoring the other vital stakeholders.

It's crucial to listen to anyone who is impacted by the brand to shape communication strategies that resonate with all stakeholders. When communications engage all brand audiences actively and emotionally, they can turn passive supporters into active evangelists. And, when brand audiences take part in building the brand through conversations and activities, it creates a much more robust proposition and automatically fosters a brand reputation more consistent with the brand image.

Hugh McGilligan is the VP for strategic services for Hill & Knowlton. He works in the New York office.

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